After being handed a knife, a student yells “I hate midterms” and starts violently chopping vegetables onstage in UCSB’s MultiCultural Center Theater. At his table are paper signs that declare “Revolution starts in the kitchen” and, as he chops away, the sticky sweet smell of soy sauce and onions fills the room. Then a man dashes in with a hot pan, asking, “How does that smell, sister?” while wafting the mouth-watering aroma into the crowd. Wooden spoons hang off the side of his cargo pants, his chef’s hat is crooked, and his cooking smock features more pieces of flair than a TGI Fridays waiter.
You might think that this performing chef is the star of a gag TV show, but he’s not. Instead, Chef Mero Cocinero Karimi brings humor, music, and food together to help people learn about other cultures and confront personal hardships. At least that’s what he did last week at UCSB in a show that was sponsored by UCSB’s Asian Arts Initiative and co-starred Comrade X, Karimi’s “leftist, right-hand man and choreographer.”
After “sharing smells with the community” by way of sauteed onions, Karimi and Comrade X kicked off the evening by announcing the theme for the night: Stimulus Appetizers. Karimi’s first recipe, hummus bi tahini, was inspired by his Guatemalan mother in an effort to see if Karimi’s Iranian father could “take the heat.” This mix of chickpeas, cumin, lemon juice, tahini, and tree chili was combined using “the power of the people” and a handy electrical outlet to create a sensual blend of cultures in food form. The hummus passed through the audience accompanied by the “weapon” of a mint leaf and two tortilla chips for scooping.
Karimi then broke into a song that was set to The Little Mermaid‘s “Part of Your World” about his goal to be on network TV and to have his own cooking show. Followed by this performance was the second recipe of the evening: a peanut butter, honey, and soy milk smoothie, and then his final dish, the LGBT(Q) Torta.
This torta was invented as a welcoming gift for Karimi’s uncle when he moved to the U.S. Karimi noted the dish should “always be made in pairs,” both for community-building and because of its large size. He started with a whole baguette and cut it lengthwise. On one side Comrade X put on beans and lettuce. On the other, an audience volunteer layered guacamole, tomatoes, and queso. Between the both of them, they managed to assemble the sandwich without throwing food on anyone in the crowd.
The audience was then instructed to go into the theater’s hallway to get their just desserts, or sandwich in this case. With a roaring applause and tummies in anticipation, the crowd ate as a community.
“You all have the power in your hands and the power in your stomachs to do this,” said Karimi. The evening ended, but the recipes and sense of community remained with everyone as they parted ways into the night.